Jim Siergey: Slap Happy

June 8th, 2021

The other night I watched a movie that I last saw in the early 1970s that holds special meanings for me in different ways.

The film is He Who Gets Slapped and it was made in 1924. It stars Lon Chaney (Sr.), the “Man of a Thousand Faces”, in another remarkable performance. Co-starring are the young Norma Shearer, who went on to have a successful career in motion pictures and John Gilbert who became a matinee idol in The Silent Era but “talkies” killed his career. It was brilliantly directed and finished in one month on a scant budget by the Swedish director Victor Seastrom who, after directing some films, went back to Sweden to concentrate on his acting career (the opposite of how it usually happens) and joining up with Ingmar Bergman.

I apologize for all the cinematic foofaraw. Perhaps I should have handed out scorecards.

In the early ‘70s, a young film critic named Roger Ebert hosted a series of Lon Chaney films on PBS. He also hosted a series of Ingmar Bergman films.This was my introduction to both of those artists.

In He Who Gets Slapped Lon Chaney plays a scientist who, on the day of his presentation before an arena filled with scholars, scientists and other brainy types, is double-crossed by his benefactor who steals Lon’s ideas (and wife). When Lon protests, claiming the expressed ideas were stolen from him, he is humiliated by gales of laughter from the intellectual crowd that seemed to number in the hundreds. The laughter and jeering rises to an even more intense level when Lon’s benefactor/double-crosser slaps Lon across the face. Turning to plead with his wife, she, too, slaps him which causes even more howls of laughter from the literati.

siergeyclowns

Bring in the clowns…

 

When we next see Mr. Chaney he is  a clown,the star attraction in a circus billed as “He, Who Gets Slapped”. Yep, his shtick is getting slapped and slapped again and again. The crowd eats it up and can’t get enough.

It is quite a remarkable film but if you have a “thing” about clowns, I suggest viewing Saw VII or something else instead. There are scenes with literally hundreds of clowns and creepy-looking little devils they are.

Back in the day not everyone had televisions (Imagine that!) so a small group of us gathered to watch He… and were mesmerized.

So much so that one friend dressed as He to attend a Hallowe’en costume party to which all of us were invited. He donned the white face, the skull cap and his clown suit even had the torn heart half-sewn upon it, just like in the movie.

At the party, he was asked who he was dressed as. Being a character from a silent film, he could not speak so, ever willing to help a fellow human out, I politely intervened.

“Allow me to give you a clue.” I kindly and helpfully interjected, whereupon I slapped my friend in the face.

Seeing puzzlement on the asker’s face I said, “Watch closely. This is all part of who he is.”

I slapped him again.

“You still don’t know? Watch carefully now.”

I made it a point to be nearby him for the rest of the evening, waiting for someone to pose the fateful question. Before too long I had to begin using my left hand because my right one was beginning to get swollen from all the slapping I was doing.

Despite the constant cuffing of his countenance, we remained friends…for a few more years. Confidentially, he was a bit of a jerk, so I did not miss him much. I didn’t miss him much at that party either.

He Who Gets Slapped. Yeah, that classic film brings back some fond memories.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Boston Blackie…

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Jim Siergey: Boston Blackie

May 18th, 2021

When in the throes of melancholia, many people turn to what has been labeled as “comfort food”. Me, I turn to “comfort films”.

I will re-watch movies that I have already watched innumerable times. It makes me feel warm, safe and content. Plus they contain less calories than a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

I won’t bore you with a listing of my comfort cinema but they are a combination of classic films, not so classic films and “guilty pleasures”.

One selection from the latter category is Boston Blackie movies. They are all B-pictures running a tad over an hour in length that are a combination of mystery, suspense and corny humor.

Boston Blackie is a reformed jewel thief and safecracker now operating as a kind of private detective. The law always suspects him of whatever crime has just occurred as he continually outwits both them and the actual culprit with charm and cunning.

Apparently there were Boston Blackie films made in the teens and twenties but the ones I’m familiar with were from the 1940s. Chester Morris (The Man with No Profile as I call him) stars as Blackie and George E. Stone, a character actor from the silent era who worked all the way through the early 1960s, eventually settling in playing a court clerk on the Perry Mason TV series, portrayed Blackie’s cohort/partner/valet/stooge whose moniker was “The Runt”.

jackboyle
Jack Boyle was quite a character…

 

Blackie’s constant accuser was Lt. Faraday, played by Richard Lane who later gained fame as radio announcer for midget car racing, roller derby and wrestling. His catch phrase was “Whooooaaaaahhhh Nellie”, used whenever something unexpected or exciting occurred.  His Detective-Sergeant was played by a variety of dim-witted lunkheads whose main purpose was to be the butt of jokes.

They were easily watchable films with crisp cinematography and entertaining story lines. There were 14 of these films made during the ‘40s and quite a few of the actors, actresses and directors involved in this series went on to become big names in Hollywood.

In the early 1950s there was a TV show called Boston Blackie starring ‘40s film actor Kent Taylor. All history of his thievery and safe cracking was erased as he portrayed a straight private investigator who, along with his wife and dog, solved crimes with the assistance (!) of Lt. Faraday and the police.

I only recently discovered that Boston Blackie began as a series of short stories.

Jack Boyle, an ex-newspaperman, who like his literary compatriots, Jean Genet, O. Henry, Nelson Mandela, the Marquis de Sade, Ezra Pound, Eldridge Cleaver and Jack Abbott, began writing his Boston Blackie stories while in prison.

Born in Chicago, Jack Boyle, working as a reporter in San Francisco became an opium addict and was jailed for writing bad checks. He was later convicted of robbery and while serving his sentence in San Quentin in 1914 began writing Boston Blackie stories.

The life of Jack Boyle could make for an interesting movie.

I found a website that presented Boston Blackie stories to read. For free. In the Boyle stories Blackie, whose given name was Horacio Black, was not an ex-jewel thief and safecracker but an active one.

In this story I began reading he had broken into a house in order to steal jewels from the wall safe he had found but was interrupted by the entry of a couple, the wife of the house’s owner and a man who was not her husband. From this point on ensued several pages of overwrought dialogue between this man and the woman who felt pangs of guilt for having an affair with the man she was with who was trying to persuade her to go away with him to the islands of Hawaii.

It got to be too much for me so I quit reading. I guess I shouldn’t blame the author for carrying on this torpid dialogue of anguished sexual deception for so, so many pages. After all, he was in prison at the time.

So there you have it, more info about a subject with which you most likely never expected to be confronted. Now, did somebody say something about meatloaf?

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was His Hair Was Perfect

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Jim Siergey: His Hair Was Perfect

May 5th, 2021

The book I’ve been reading lately is I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon. Needless to say it portrays the rock and roller as even crazier and more out of control than one already expected. Despite all that he wrote a shitload of great songs.

While reading it, I came across a 1975 photo of Warren and a guy named David Lindell. Lindell was a mercenary in Africa and the co-writer of “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”.

In the song, Roland is a mercenary in the Congo War of the 1960s and is known as the greatest Thompson gunner, a reputation that captures the attention of the CIA and an agent named Van Owen who hunts Roland down and blows his head off. But Roland becomes the phantom “headless Thompson gunner” who gets his revenge on Van Owen and continues “wandering through the night”.

It’s not exactly a lullaby to be sung to the kiddies but it’s a great song that is powerfully recorded. The influence of the ex-mercenary Lindell is heartily felt in the lyrics.

As I looked at the photo, the appearance of the mustachioed Lindell as well as his name kept eating at me with a sense of familiarity. Finally, like a bag full of feathers, it hit me. He looked like the My Pillow Guy!

I Googled “The My Pillow Guy” and found a photo of the similarly mustachioed Mike Lindell—the same last name!  I had read that in a previous life Pillow Guy Lindell was a crack addict. Perhaps in another life he was a mercenary as well?

Could this possibly be? I returned to the Google.

Alas, Pillow Guy Lindell was born in 1961. Mercenary Lindell met Zevon in Spain in 1975 so unless he was Thompson gunning in the jungle as a teenager, they were not one and the same.

But could they be related?

I Googled and I Googled and I Googled even more but could find little info on David “Mercenary” Lindell. More forthcoming was personal info on Mike “Pillow Guy” Lindell.  Among his siblings and half-siblings, there is no David Lindell. Anyone who wants to search his family tree for cousins is welcome to do so. I’m not that obsessed with this.

I just found it interesting that these two fellers shared the same surname and facial hirsuteness. If you’ve read this far, then you probably were too. Unfortunately, it has all been for naught.

Poor, poor pitiful we.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Plenty of Nothing

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Jim Siergey: Plenty of Nothing

April 23rd, 2021

Out in the frigid vastness of outer space existed a planet that was made entirely of ice. The inhabitants of this planet ate nothing but ice and where they got the ice to subsist on came from the planet itself. Despite the fact that their population was small and they didn’t need much to sustain themselves, they were slowly eating away their planet and they knew it. However, this fact did not worry them because they felt that it would be a long time before the disastrous effects of their dietary destruction would become noticeable.The future could wait. They were hungry now.

Mike loved to play football. The fact that he was big and solid and hard to move aside worked in his favor in being positioned as a lineman. He played all four years on his high school team. He wasn’t a starter but he would get in for a few plays now and then as a second stringer. He even made the football team in college. Again, he wasn’t a starter. In fact, he was more of a third-stringer. He realized that his chances to get on the field in an actual game were pretty slim but he never missed a workout or a practice and felt that his doggedness and determination would pay off some day. However, he never left the bench during his freshman, sophomore or junior year. He felt in his heart that he would get his chance during his senior year. His three straight years of doggedness and determination would earn him the respect of his coach. Once again, he showed up for every practice, every workout and every scrimmage. He boisterously cheered his team on from the sidelines. Ultimately, the final game of the season came about. Mike suited up, carefully buckling on his pads and climbing into his uniform. He applied eye black to his cheeks to keep off the glare, affixed his mouth guard over his teeth, pulled on his helmet and with the rest of his teammates, ran roaring out onto the field. The first half ended with him never moving from the bench. The second half will be my chance, he thought to himself. The third quarter ended and his uniform remained as clean as it did when the game began. The fourth quarter started and he anxiously waited for the coach’s gesture for him to run onto the field.  The minutes ticked away. With one eye on the game and the other on his coach, Mike remained optimistic as he waited with bated breath for his chance to enter the game. Maybe Coach will insert me for the final seconds, Mike mused. Maybe, maybe the last play.  The game-ending gun sounded and on the bench Mike slumped forward as if the gun shot was aimed at him.

Inspiration had struck Fenton Cargill. He sauntered to his writing desk and sat down. He laced his fingers, stretched out his arms and smiled in grimacing joy as he counted out the knuckle cracks and pops.  Eight, nine, and then ten.  He unlocked his fingers and shook them by his sides.  He was ready to begin.  He reached up to flick on the gooseneck lamp and….nothing happened.  Click, click, clickety click and still…no light.  Fenton reached in and unscrewed the long-dead light bulb.  Finding no wastebasket at hand–what did happen to that wastebasket?, he mused–he opened a desk drawer and deposited the dormant bulb next to an empty Sprite can and a pile of Bazooka Joe comics which were carefully paper-clipped together and resting safely beneath some orange peels.  Fenton sat back, placed his hand upon his chin, letting his index finger curl atop his upper lip as he furrowed his brow and contemplated where he could look to find a light bulb.  Minutes ticked by and no imaginary light bulb appeared above Fenton’s cranium to direct him to where an actual light bulb could be found. Several more minutes elapsed and the light bulb of initial inspiration also burned out leaving Fenton with freshly developed hunger pangs and just a hint of a headache.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Roger & Me

 

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Jim Siergey: Roger & Me

April 6th, 2021

On April 4, 2013 the revered film critic Roger Ebert passed away. On his blog this April 4 Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg reprinted a moving column he had written about Mr. Ebert’s passing.

Reading it reminded me that I once wrote to Roger Ebert, back when he was alive, of course. I’m not into spiritualism or ouija boards and if I were I don’t think Roger would be the first person I would consider contacting from the vast beyond.

Although, I could choose worse.

I am a great fan of the film The Third Man. I have seen it many times, both in bad prints on the big screen and restored prints. I recommend the restored version. I also own a DVD of the film and even watched it again recently when it was aired on TCM.

I can’t get enough of it.

If you are unfamiliar with it, it is a black and whiter from 1949 directed by Carol Reed, starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli and Orson Welles who makes the most dramatic and memorable entrance into a film ever (Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy is a close but distant second). Another star of the film is the zither music of Anton Karas.

I’m getting a bit cine-nerdy here so I shall cease.

jimboutonlonggoodbye

Apropos to nothing–Jim Bouton was in The Long Goodbye…

 

Anyway, I had recently viewed another film I greatly enjoy, The Long Goodbye. It is directed by Robert Altman and stars Elliott Gould. I had always thought that the ending of this film was Altman’s left-handed compliment to the ending of The Third Man.

I had read several reviews of the film but none of them mentioned this concept that I thought was quite obvious. I had come across Roger Ebert’s website so I wrote to him, posing my opinion. Lo and behold, he wrote back! Either that or one of his underlings did but I prefer to think that it was Roger.

In his response, Roger wrote that he had recently viewed the film again because he was including it in his next book of Great Movies and this time he had come to the same conclusion that I did and didn’t know why he didn’t the first time he saw it.

Cynics might say that he had that thought because my email had just put the thought in his head but I shall give the great man the benefit of any doubt.  I always try to be the bigger person.

I’ve never seen the Great Movies volume that includes The Long Goodbye so I don’t know if he gave a nod or a tip o’the hat to me regarding the Third Man connection but I’m sure it’s there in tiny tiny tiny tiny print, found perhaps on the slivery edge of the page.

By the way, if any reader of this stuff I write has not seen either film you would do yourself a favor by doing so. View The Third Man first, of course.

You could choose worse.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last piece for The Third City was A Bad Day

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Jim Siergey: A Bad Day–A Work of Satire

March 20th, 2021

I was awakened suddenly this morning with an intense Charley Horse in my right calf. My attempt to sit up and massage the painfully throbbing cramp was deterred by my being twisted up in my blankets. I kicked and thrashed like a wild man until I was able to get free. I sat on the edge of the bed and kneaded my calf to no avail so I decided to get up to walk it off forgetting that I’d been suffering from a bad back of late and getting out of bed in the morning was the most agonizing part of the day. I couldn’t straighten up and my legs were like stalks of unbendable metal so I was able to only hobble a few steps but then a wave of vertigo hit me and knocked me backwards onto my bed where I cracked my noggin on the headboard.

I could tell right then that it was going to be a bad day.

There was only one way to deal with a bad day—go out and shoot people. That appears to be the accepted remedy. And not just any people. When a white-skinned person is having a bad day he must shoot people of darker skin tones and different facial features. Apparently, that works best.

But I didn’t have a gun. In fact I have never even held a gun much less fired one. How was I to countermeasure this bad day without a weapon? What a quandary.

siergeypotHey, everybody. It’s Jim, telling you–this is satire!

 

I didn’t even have a water pistol. I’m not sure how well that would fix a bad day plus it only holds so much ammo and when empty, people might chase me and with this sore leg and bad back I’d be overtaken easily. That wouldn’t be good.

Time was a’wastin’. If I didn’t move into action pretty soon this bad day was going to get even badder. A headache might join in making it even more of a bad day. Boy, do I hate headaches.

Perhaps if I explained my situation to a policeman he might let me borrow his gun. Maybe he’d even drive me to a church or open market or spa where I could find likely victims…er…remedies. I understand that there are some policemen who are very sympathetic to Caucasians having bad days.

But how could I tell? I wouldn’t want to pick the wrong one and get myself arrested and put into jail. That would make for a really bad day.

Boy, when you don’t have a gun and you’re having a bad day, you feel impotent.  There’s nothing you can do. You’re stuck. You’re forced to suck it up and deal with it, snap out of it and buck up.

Pulling a trigger is so much easier.

I guess  I’ll have to go against the grain and make that extra effort on my own and hope for the best. Sigh. Hey, the sun is shining and I can hear birds. That’s pretty nice. Boy, if I had a gun and was out shooting people I might’ve missed all that. Y’know, maybe, just maybe, if guns weren’t so easily accessible…naaahh, that could never happen.

I think I’ll just go watch some porn. Praise Jesus.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Four Eyes Only. As he may have mentioned already, he wants everyone to know that this piece is satire. Once again–satire!

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Jim Siergey: Four Eyes Only

March 7th, 2021

My energy had begun to flag so I headed toward the washroom to splash some cold water on my face. The door was cracked open so I stealthily entered the darkened room. A pull chain caressed my face enticing me to give it a gentle tug which I did and the room was lit with all the intensity that a greasy 25 watt bulb could emit.

It was a narrow room with several odd angles and filled with a multitude of odds and ends. I felt like I was standing in a junk drawer. I espied my destination in the far corner, a small shallow sink. It stood on one leg and rest of the basin rested on a Butcher Block table next to it.

On the tabletop was an assortment of nuts and bolts, mostly of a rusted nature, an unused pad of faded yellow Post-It notes, a plaid pot holder that had seen better days, an assortment of keys that no longer locked or opened anything and various scraps of damp rags.

I pushed them to the side exposing the buckled seams of the long-neglected Butcher Block, removed my glasses and put them down in the cleared space. I turned on the tap and waited for the brown water to turn clear before splashing the ice cold liquid onto my countenance. It was bracing.

Sufficiently invigorated, I turned off the tap and looked for a towel. Finding none I used the tails of my untucked shirt to dry my face. I reached for my glasses but they weren’t there. I sorted through the items I had moved aside, my fingers picking carefully through them like a cat stepping softly through a bed of nails but they were not to be found.

Plagued by blurry vision, I bent down and looked about the floor where even more detritus lie. I gingerly picked my way through pieces of torn newspaper, bent nails, crooked screws, clots of hair, coffee grounds, talcum powder and mouse droppings. My spectacles were not among this jungle of debris.

I straightened up and scratched my head in befuddlement. Then I heard a voice speak out.

“You lookin’ for something?”

I narrowed my eyes, pointlessly hoping that my squint would bring forth some sort of focus. There beside me was a man sitting on the toilet, pants around his ankles and what looked to be a Reader’s Digest in his hands. Had he been there all along?

Averting my hazy gaze, I explained that I couldn’t find my glasses and, wishing to give the man the privacy he deserved, hurried out the door.

zippysiergey

The Zipster…

 

I found myself in what looked to be a warehouse. I didn’t remember being there before. Had I gone out the wrong door?  How could I? It was such a small room there could not have been two doors. I walked up the narrow aisle and bumped into a folding chair upon which a small man was sitting facing away from me.

“Oh, excuse me.”, I apologized, “ I lost my glasses and can’t see very well.”

“Here.” The seated man said, “Try these. They have magic lenses. They’re advertised on TV.”

I took them from his outstretched hand and put them on. The non-prescriptive lenses did bring things a little more into focus. I had to tilt my head a certain way to make the “magic” work but that may have been because the lenses were scratched and one of the ear pieces was quite loose.

“How they working?” the seated figure asked.

“Not bad.” I replied.

“Ya wanna buy ‘em?”

I politely said no as I handed them back.

He shrugged and said that perhaps I could find some new ones in the room next door. They just received a big shipment of all kinds of things. So off I tottered to the doorway up ahead.

Next door was a room full of bins holding a variety of items. I found one bin that held several pairs of the “magic” glasses. I tried on a pair and the visual result was about the same. I could see a little clearer but the lenses were decorated with a bunch of tiny back dots.

“I have enough floaters of my own”, I thought to myself. “I don’t need to have more.”

Unfortunately, every pair I looked at had some design imprinted on the lenses, tiny hearts, wee whirligigs, scrimshaw-like etchings, candy canes and one with a tiny angel dancing atop Zippy the Pinhead.

Amusing but useless, I put them all back in the bin.

From the next room I heard the muffled sound of a toilet flushing, a door creaking open and a man’s voice saying how much easier it was for him to read the jokes in small print with his new specs.

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Regrets

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